MANY conversations around recent developments in the country tend to end in one comment which is sometimes posed as a question: “…then why do the majority of South African voters continue to vote for the ANC?”
When not posed as a question, the person making the comment often ends by throwing their hands in the air and rolling their eyes, as if saying: “What else can you expect!”.
The answer to this question is not as easy as many want it to be. First of all, I deliberately omitted the word “black” because, it seems to me, following racist outbreaks by Penny Sparrow et al a few months ago and how the nation reacted to it, fewer whites are comfortable to ask what used to be “then why do black voters still vote overwhelmingly for the ANC?”.
This wording, understandably, has become a no go in the evolving South African political etiquette. The answer to the question is also complicated because in any case, whichever way you look at them, the majority of South African voters – ie black voters – have never been a homogeneous lot, despite appearances. They’re as heterogeneous in their thinking as the broader South African electorate is complex.
There are “Clever Blacks”, who are not necessarily all urban dwellers, and there are “Rural and Peri-urban Blacks”, who are not necessarily all “not clever”. In each category, there are those who see the mess we’re in and others who don’t, or who refuse to.
These are the ones who see nothing wrong with R246m of taxpayers’ money being diverted from essential government services to ensuring that the Zuma clan remains ‘secure in comfort’. They also see absolutely nothing wrong with Duduzane Zuma amassing sudden millions through business connections thanks, ostensibly, to being the son of his father.
The denialists come in the form of rural folk for whom Zuma is a king whose actions cannot be questioned. They will not risk losing their monthly grants, which they believe only an ANC government will make available. They also come cloaked as government ministers and sleepy parliamentarians who don’t need much convincing that a modern swimming pool can be sold to gullible citizens as a water reservoir designed for putting out fires; as well as a captured premier league with questionable business interests.
In terms of voter choice, all of these people can be divided into two broad categories.
The first group, angered by recent developments, considers any contemplation of taking their votes away from the ANC like an ultimate act of betrayal; a betrayal not only of the ANC but of the broader struggle against colonialism and apartheid.
Battered spouses who keep returning to their abuser
These are the ones who are like battered, abused spouses who will keep coming back to the abusive partner, ready to forgive, because they’re convinced that despite the frequent abuse, deep down inside their partner is a loving person who really cares about them.
To them, the abusive partner is the devil they know, one who will someday change into a better person. Running off with someone else is not an option.
The second group, also angered, is trapped in a political no man’s land. Think of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s outburst a few years ago when his friend, the Dalai Lama, was refused a visa to enter South Africa. Instead of threatening to vote for another party, the Arch threatened not to vote at all. Coming from him, those remarks were telling.
There are increasing numbers of people in this group, mostly “Clever Blacks”, who feel seriously betrayed by the ANC but are not ready to make the big jump, especially to a party like the DA which many still suspect to be a Trojan horse captive to unrepentant racists.
This is particularly so following the own goal scored by Sparrow and company, which cost the DA some of the inroads it had begun to make in the minds of unhappy Clever Blacks. Some of them now consider Mmusi Maimane as just a black jockey sitting astride the Trojan horse for photo opportunities.
The Economic Freedom Fighters might be an easier alternative in their conscience, but they will not say so publicly.
Unlike the first group, this one has garnered the courage to move out of the home they shared with the abuser. But from here anything is possible. Some will be lured back to their abusive spousal home with lofty promises and happy meals, others will remain on neutral ground while they continue to lick their wounds and gather the courage to move on with their lives, without the abusive partner.
Nostalgic call of old struggle songs
But they’re still vulnerable, trying to convince themselves that they were not too hasty in their departure, often thinking of the good old times with the abusive partner, allowing themselves to shed a nostalgic tear whenever they hear a love song – a struggle song. They will hear many such songs and be reminded of heartwarming struggle anecdotes when the campaigning gathers speed.
The field is quite open for opposition political parties, big and small, to take advantage of the chaos in the ANC. But they have to put seriously convincing alternative policy and governance alternatives on the table. It’s up to them to make themselves appealing.
Remember the words of Brutus in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar:
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Those who oppose the ANC can only blame themselves if they fail to attract new voters in the coming elections.